1.15.2013

IBM Scientists Honored with Feynman Prize


Dr. Gerhard Meyer
This past weekend, IBM Research scientists Gerhard Meyer, Leo Gross, and Jascha Repp (Dr. Repp now works at Regensburg University) were awarded the Foresight Institute's Feynman Prize for Experiment for their work in advancing the frontiers of scanning probe microscopy.

Dr. Richard Feynman is a Nobel Prize laureate, whose original goal of building systems of molecular machines with atomic precision is still the guiding vision of long-term nanotechnology. For this reason and dozens of others, the Foresight Institute established a prize in his honor in 1996, which was awarded to the IBM scientists — the third time an IBM scientist has been selected.

Ralph C. Merkle, chairman of the Prize Committee, lauded the three, saying "The work of these Feynman Prize winners has brought us one step closer to answering Feynman's 1959 question, 'What would happen if we could arrange atoms one by one the way we want them?'

Dr. Jascha Repp
"And the ability to simulate and manipulate atoms advanced by the work of these Prize winners will enable us to design and build engineered molecular machinery with atomic precision. It will take us another step on the way to the development of revolutionary nanotechnologies that will transform our lives for the better."

Meyer and Gross continue a long tradition in microscopy at IBM Research - Zurich, which started in the early 1980s when the scanning tunneling microscope was invented.

Feynman also has a connection to IBM when as a young physicist he assisted in establishing a system for using IBM punched cards for computation.

In this video from 2009, Dr. Gross talks about imaging molecules.


40 years of breakthroughs in Haifa, Israel


Editor’s note: This article is by Oded Cohn, director of IBM Research – Haifa.

It may seem obvious that IBM would have such a large research center in Israel – especially today when almost every major global technology company has a research and development presence in Israel. But this definitely wasn't the case 40 years ago. Back in 1972, when the late Josef Raviv established the IBM Scientific Center in Israel, it was a matter of inspiration and real pioneering spirit. IBM opened the research center for the same reason many hi-tech companies are opening up branches in Israel today: local talent and brain power.

IBM's Research Lab in Haifa holds a unique position among Israeli hi-tech companies. On the one hand, we have great value in being technology leaders, but by virtue of our role in a global company, we have always had a vision that connects our lab's work to the worldwide markets. We are situated in a location that enables us to work with partners in the US, Europe and Asia. By sitting in the middle (of the Eastern hemisphere), we are accessible geographically and when it comes to time zones. With this, we look forward to working closely with IBM's newly announced lab in Kenya's emerging market.

Who we are

Israel has the world’s highest number of scientists and scientific publications, per capita.

Israel has the world's highest number of scientists per capita at 135 scientists for every 100,000 workers. This year’s World Economic Forum report also ranked the quality of Israel’s research universities number one. And the country also has the highest number of startups outside Silicon Valley – in a geographical area roughly the same size as Silicon Valley.

The Israeli culture embraces open collaboration to communicate new ideas, which helps make our lab a focal center where people with common interests – whether venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, academics, or researchers – can meet at our leadership seminars or other conferences.

Researchers at the Haifa lab work on technologies such as cloud computing, object storage, and analytics – and translating them into solutions that solve real life problems. Just this year, we delivered a clinical genomics platform that will help physicians in Italy identify better treatments for cancer patients; invented an augmented reality application for mobile devices to help shoppers identify their preferred products in retail stores; and reduced the amount of leaks and burst pipes in the water distribution network of California’s Sonoma County.

Looking forward

We've accomplished so much over the past 40 years. But the fast pace of change presents a growing number of opportunities for us: for example, working on a new partnership with the Israeli mobile team at Worklight, which IBM recently acquired. This collaboration gave rise to a new mobile platform that is helping companies develop, manage, and secure mobile apps being used by employees at work.
Although mobile devices represent a terrific new convenience for finding the nearest restaurant or avoiding traffic jams, mobile also has the potential to transform many industries. Enterprises will soon manage their business processes in completely different ways and IBM is playing a major role in this transformation.

There are an infinite number of cool gadgets and fun apps that will give us a coupon or find the nearest taxi, but we also need technology to do the heavy lifting. Today, researchers in Haifa are working on innovations for smarter agriculture to help solve the looming crisis of world food supply, healthcare solutions for people in remote areas suffering from the lack of access to physicians or medication, and improvements to the water supply in developing countries.

By understanding the problems faced by other communities and helping find solutions to things like healthcare services, food, and education, we want to break down the barriers of different populations around the world.  I look forward to continuing our heritage of innovation and being part of these solutions over the next 40 years.


1.14.2013

Stable Electrolytes Will Move Next-Gen EVs

Central Glass building the chemicals that could take lithium-air batteries 500 miles

Satoru Narizuka
Editor’s note: This article is by Senior Research Engineer Satoru Narizuka of Central Glass.

‘Electrolyte’ isn't just a fancy word to describe sports drink additives that help athletic performance. An electrolyte is also a vital component in electric vehicles’ rechargeable batteries. And for IBM’s lithium-air battery project, we at Central Glass in Japan are developing electrolytes for rechargeable lithium-air batteries that could lead to an EV with a 500 mile-per-charge (800 km) range.

Electrolytes are an essential part of all batteries, but those used for state-of-the-art EV lithium-ion batteries are unstable in lithium-air batteries. Although lithium-ion batteries can power an EV for as many as 300 miles (480 km) per charge – depending on the manufacturer – stable electrolytes will be necessary for a next generation of EVs powered by 500 mile-per-charge lithium-air batteries.

Narizuka in the Central Glass lab.
Electrolytes in EV Batteries

Batteries have three main components: the anode, the cathode and the electrolyte.

In an EV lithium-ion battery, the electrolyte allows lithium ions to shuttle back-and-forth between the anode and cathode during the discharge and charge cycles. During discharge in lithium-air batteries, lithium ions move through the electrolyte from the lithium metal anode to react with oxygen at the cathode. The reverse reaction occurs during recharge, and lithium metal is deposited on the anode – and oxygen is released back into the air. 

The challenge: improving stability of the electrolyte in the presence of both the lithium metal anode and the lithium oxide products in the cathode.

Going from ion to air

Tank-sized Li-ion batteries needed to go 500 miles

For a car running on today's lithium-ion batteries to match the range provided by a tank of gasoline, car manufacturers would need several more batteries which would weigh down the car and take up too much space – making an EV the size of a tank!

To popularize electric cars, an energy density that is 10 times greater than those of today’s lithium-ion batteries is needed.
Typical electrolytes employed in lithium-ion batteries do not work in lithium-air batteries. They quickly react with lithium oxide products formed at the cathode, leading to a degradation of battery performance and lifecycle. A viable electrolyte must be stable throughout both the discharge (i.e., while driving) and the recharge (while plugged in) cycles.

We are currently testing several candidate electrolytes using a suite of state-of-the-art analytical methods. Our final desire is to find an electrolyte system that will provide high Li-ion conductivity (which translates to high battery power) while not significantly degrading during battery charge cycling, over time. We believe a combination of these two features will be a huge advance in the quest to build a Li-air battery for electric vehicles.

By working with IBM Research, we’re close to developing this stable electrolyte that can achieve 500 miles per charge – within a battery that lasts 20,000 total miles. And we’ll ultimately realize the next generation of electric vehicles.

1.11.2013

Nanocircuits flex tech muscle


Mighty electronic chips in your clothes to monitor your vitals? A tablet that folds up and fits in your back pocket? Research scientists Stephen Bedell and Davood Shahrjerdi at IBM's Thomas J Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York think that flexible nanoscale circuits can do just that. 

The flexible nanoelectronic circuit Bedell and Shahrjedri designed is 10,000 times thinner than a piece of paper, and was peeled off of a silicon wafer and put onto plastic – an industry first. These circuits are also easily transferrable at any size, arbitrary in shape, and compatible with any flexible substrate.

These flexible circuits are the first to use the Control Spalling Technique to transfer a circuit from silicon to plastic. The circuits also demonstrated the first flexible memory (SRAM), and delivered the best performance of a chip on plastic.

With a radius of curvature of only 6 mm, these sheets of circuits could cover or roll on top of almost anything.

“In certain applications such as space satellites and portable consumer electronics, weight of onboard devices is the key factor. Thin flexible circuits are so light that a large number of these circuits can be stacked to provide unprecedented computing power,” said Bedell.

The Controlled Spalling Technique that was used to create the flexible circuits can be applied to other materials as well. For instance, Controlled Spalling could also be used to replace the poor thermal conducting sapphire substrate on solid state lighting. In this application the light (and heat) generating layers can be removed from the sapphire and mounted onto a higher thermally conducting material, such as metal.  

New class of Si-based high-performance electronics

These flexible chips are as powerful as any other brittle chip sitting on silicon. More than 10 billion transistors can sit on the plastic substrate. And their ultra low-power needs – a paltry 0.6 volts – make them perfect for novel mobile applications, wearable electronics and bioelectronics.

“For example, in healthcare, a physician could implant a self-powering flexible electronic chip comprised of many nanoscale silicon-based devices into a patient to deliver drugs, or provide analysis via something like a bluetooth signal” said Shahrjerdi.

Taking the high performance of a smartphone or smart television and making it ultra-lightweight and flexible can open up endless possibilities for new applications. 

1.10.2013

Profile of a Scientist: Qing Cao


Qing Cao, recently named one of Forbes30 under 30 in Science and Healthcare for his work on carbon nanotubes, has also filed 9 patent applications in his young IBM career of four years. Inspiration comes in many forms for all IBMers who have contributed to IBM’s 20 years of patent leadership.

Qing shares his thoughts about what inspires him.

Which IBM patent do you think is the most significant? Why?

Qing Cao:  I think the disclosure about using glassy carbon as a precursor to form a carbide contact to carbon nanotube FETs (field effect transistors) in a self-aligned fashion is incredibly significant. At a 5 nm technology mode – which is the target for nanotube technology to enter production – contact is critical for device performance.

This invention, where we utilize glassy carbon (a common material in microelectro-mechanical systems (MEMS) but not in microelectronics) as a dummy contact to nanotubes can significantly improve the quality of contact between the electrode and high density carbon nanotube arrays, since carbon has a high affinity with carbon. In addition, glassy carbon can be converted to metal carbide. Together with underlying nanotubes, this allows the adoption of a self-aligned process to fabricate these tiny devices. 

Carbon nanotubes have the potential to lead to smaller and faster microprocessors, and reduce power consumption – essentially keeping up with Moore's Law.



Has there been an invention, inventor or patent that has inspired you?

QC: Yes. For example, the patent I mentioned above is inspired by an old IBM patent (US #7,598,516). In addition, as a new IBMer, I benefit from working with those experienced inventor at the Thomas J Watson Research Center. For example, many of my patent ideas come from discussions with IBM Master Inventor Dr. Shu-jen Han.

What wisdom can you share about creativity, inspiration, problem solving or invention?

QC: As the old Chinese saying goes, “stones from other hills may serve to polish the jade of this one” – meaning that the old method and wisdom from other areas may help to overcome big problems in your own field.

Do you have rituals or habits for finding inspiration?

QC: Many of my creative ideas actually emerge during my commute. Talking with colleagues is another major source of good ideas.

What advice do you have for hopeful inventors?

QC: Don’t restrict yourself to your own project or research area. Explore other areas and collaborate with colleagues, and creative ideas and inventions will come naturally.

It is fun to solve problems and it is exciting to be the first person to demonstrate something useful.

1.02.2013

Cheap chipset slated to stream super-fast video

Q&A with Scott Reynolds, IBM Research scientist specializing in integrated chip design.

A winner of a Pat Goldberg Best Paper Award for Organic Packages with Embedded Phased-Array Antennas for 60-GHz Wireless Chipsets (pdf), Scott talks about the challenges of designing an organic package capable of transferring data at very high rates.

What problem did you set out to research when you began developing an organic package with antennas and a microchip?

Our integrated circuit team wanted to build a chipset you could use to stream uncompressed video data at five gigabits per second. That's a really high rate, and that's a lot of data.

Almost any data source, whether it's coming from a DVD or streamed from an online source, is compressed. But when it gets to that box in your living room, it's uncompressed. You actually do not want to compress it when you transmit it to your television set: Every time you compress and decompress data, your video image is going to get a little bit worse. That compression-decompression cycle also adds latency, or time delay. The latency involved in these compression-decompression algorithms is hundreds of milliseconds. That's too long for movies and way too long for video gaming.

Remember too that the consumer electronics companies have to pay royalty fees every time they go through a compression-decompression cycle.

Why are you working with organic materials instead of semiconductors?

Basically, we're building radio-frequency systems at really high frequencies that in the past operated only on cumbersome hardware. You needed exotic semiconductors technologies, such as gallium arsenide and Indium phosphide. You needed expensive hardware to run at these frequencies. Now we can build things inexpensively using silicon, circuit board techniques and organic packages (carbon-based conductive materials).

Our organic package is unique because it contains both a chip and antennas. We were looking for an economical way, in terms of materials and funding, to build a radio that operates at very high frequencies -- 60 gigahertz (GHz), or at about 30 times higher frequency than the WiFi card -- capable of transferring data at very high rates. The challenge was to do this inexpensively so we could potentially put it into a consumer product.

We aren't talking here about conventional radio signals. We're talking about signals that best operate in a small space, like a living room, and in a line-of-sight way. When you operate at these very high frequencies, you can't easily separate the antennas from the integrated circuit (IC), or chip. Moreover, all practical packaging materials are really lossy. That is, much of the radio signal generated in your IC can be lost in the package. Not to mention that at these frequencies, the radio signal disappears if it travels too far. Hence, the need for creating a package with a lot of antennas -- the phased array -- so you ultimately can steer the radio signal as a “beam” around the room.

There are also simpler applications of 60GHz that can use simpler packages, such as when you point your mobile device at a video data source and download your movie, music or game in a matter of seconds.

Incidentally, the small-range nature of 60GHz technology can actually be a benefit. You could set up private, "impermeable" networks throughout your house. Sixty gigahertz technology is innately secure.

How did you manufacture the organic package?

My colleague Duixian Lui, as well as our other colleagues, designed the antennas and all the layers inside the circuit board. We did a lot of the material characterization here in Yorktown. When the design was complete, Duixian transmitted a file to the fab where it was manufactured.

A lot of issues came up in manufacturing the whole package. For instance, the early versions would just peel apart. There was a lot of blistering.

One other thing: Even though we talk about the relative low cost of using organic materials, manufacturing this package with organics was still very challenging. We ended up experiencing some manufacturing delays.

How did you test your results?

Basically, we were measuring the antenna patterns -- simultaneously -- of all the antennas in this package. And by measuring those antenna patterns, we could see whether the package was working or not.

The next level of testing was to build a communication link using the chip and the package to see if we could transmit data. That's the final test of whether all these assumptions that went into the chip, package system and design actually worked.

What makes the 60GHz market important?

This 60GHz technology is being considered for a lot of potential applications. At the time that our team developed the chip-antenna package, the market was still immature. Sixty gigahertz in living rooms really hasn't taken off, yet.

But in the not-too-distant-future, 60GHz is a potential technology for increasing the speeds of wireless LAN in your computer.

On a good day today, you can get to 50 megabits with your wireless LAN card. But there are already Broadcom and Intel applications that need higher data rates than that. So, 60GHz is going to appear in the kinds of applications those companies are investing in.

Let's take an example from everyday life. Say you have a smartphone. You might want to synch it with the data on a hard drive. You might want to download a movie. You would have to transmit a lot of data in a short period of time. So, you're going to need high data rates. Enter 60GHz.

What are your next steps?

The system we're working on right now is very interesting because it's for collision-avoidance radar in helicopters.

Helicopters don't have very sophisticated radar systems. When a pilot loses his visual bearings, he is liable to fly into a wire. Sometimes we hear about helicopters plunging into the Hudson or East Rivers. What can happen is that wind and surf conditions are such that they throw up a lot of water into the air, and the pilot loses his bearings.

If you had a high-resolution short-range radar system -- the kind you could build with our organic packages -- every single civilian helicopter could have one. If you tried to do that with conventional technology, it would weigh hundreds of pounds. A helicopter couldn't take off! I think that in 10 years, all helicopters will have them.